While game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets was closely contested for much of game, the final score was very revealing of the challenges that lay ahead for the Rockets.
The Warriors generated good offensive possessions through impeccable ball movement, while the Rockets were heavily-dependent on isolation-plays from James Harden.
While Harden is deadly at creating his own shot or getting to the line, his attempts to dribble out the shot clock and either hoist a step-back jumper or slash to the hoop hoping for a foul ultimately risk draining his energy over the course of a grueling playoff game.
It was evident that the Rockets didn’t have much of an alternative for scoring when he wasn’t on the court. It’s a heavy load to put on Harden against a defense that makes him work for everything.
The dilemma for teams that face roadblocks this deep in the postseason is that it’s difficult to turn your back on a strategy that has gotten you this far.
There’s a reason the Rockets had the best record in the NBA this season. To suddenly reinvent themselves might not only be too reactionary but maybe not even possible.
For an entire offensive philosophy to be reworked at this stage of the playoffs does not inspire much confidence in its ultimate success.
Tim MacMahon on ESPN has an interesting story about what Mike D’Antoni has up his sleeve for game 2 in terms of possible adjustments.
It seems as though D’Antoni isn’t really suggesting doing anything that much different, saying that the Rockets just need to stay true to who they are.
They earned the best record in the NBA playing a specific style of basketball, and that one game was not enough to completely discount the success they’ve had with it to this point.
The article had a lot of interesting statistics to digest. The Rockets averaged 1.12 points per isolation possession during the regular season. They were the only team in the league that averaged more than 1 point per isolation play. The Rockets ran 45 isolation plays in game 1, which was 5 more than their previous game-high isolations this season.
D’Antoni attributed his team’s issues in game 1 more to mental mistakes on defense and not pushing the ball in transition well enough.
It’s an important judgement call for him to make. There’s a very fine line between having faith in what got you this far and a stubbornness to not adjust when appropriate.
The outcome of game 2 will likely dictate D’Antoni’s stance going forward. One game might just be an anomaly, but going to Oakland down 2-0 would represent a clear sign that the current strategy isn’t viable to beat the Warriors.